Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why I love Eleanor of Aquitaine by Robert Fripp *GIVEAWAY*

As I write this, the Atlantic magazine is running a cover story: "The End of Men: how women are taking control of everything," by Hannah Rosin (July, 2010.)

Contrast that with my concept of Eleanor of Aquitaine as she dictates her memoirs in the year 1203. In this passage she is looking back on her first decade in Paris as the queen of France, beginning in 1137. "Women were wombs," she begins, "wombs to put to marriage; wombs to breed; wombs to command; wombs who would meekly obey. A man served two masters, his lord and the Church. A woman served three, for she obeyed her man before the other two."

Eleanor's campaign (if it was a campaign) to improve the status of noble women borrowed from the teachings of at least two influential men. One was the philosopher Peter Abelard; the other, the charismatic wandering preacher, Robert d'Arbrissel, founder of Fontevrault, the abbey for nuns as well as monks and always governed by a woman. (Eleanor is buried there.)

Here she is on Abelard: "Peter’s message was: question blind faith, for it is blind. And question that which you obey. That was why we women were so fond of him. Not just for his audacity. He raised at least the hope of a free mind. How bold he made us feel. What vicarious joy!"

In Robert d'Arbrissel she finds, "...a man of vision. He came from Brittany, a land of Celts whose ancient tales expound on British legends. They tell of magical and healing powers possessed by women in the days of the great King Arthur. Celts are not jealous of female arts: rather they revere them. It is no coincidence that both d’Arbrissel and Abelard were Bretons. The Celtic mind permits Woman her full measure of humanity."

"Historical Tapestry" asked me to explain, "Why is Eleanor of Aquitaine so popular in fiction right now?" After a decade working on "Power of a Woman..." I can say: Because her time is now.

The first years of the past century saw women struggle for the right to vote. The first decade of this century finds them continuing to break from a cocoon of condescension to achieve emancipation in the fullest sense -- in human life and living. Transpose the following passage into modern terms as "my" Eleanor rejects her centuries-old conditioning; and observe how her ancient dream slips into place in the jigsaw of our modern times. Here is Eleanor on what must have seemed to her an impossible hope:

"In the time of my grandmothers, worthies of the Church spilled earnest ink and heated breath upon this question: do women possess immortal souls? The men who asked that question held that women were but passive vessels for the nurture of their husbands' seed. Think of it, Aline. The very proposition begs a second question: do women give birth to soul-less snakes or to the souls of men? All men are born of women. So, how is it that a beast-like thing, having no soul, gives birth to kings? Pah! I myself have carried God’s anointed! Jesus was of woman born! Even a Church whose one good eye looks kindly upon males concedes the truth of that! So how can it be that women have less claim to souls, or claim to lesser souls?"

In Eleanor of Aquitaine's character I discovered the toughness and agility of the feminine spirit that my late mother-in-law possessed in abundance. So, who was she?

Cipe Pineles reached New York from the wreckage of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the early 1920s with her mother, two sisters and some English acquired by reading Charles Dickens aloud. She soon graduated high school, at the same time winning The Nation's national essay contest. As a young designer she knocked on doors with her portfolio for a year before magazine entrepreneur Condé Nast himself placed her in a job with potential. She never looked back.

What had Cipe Pineles in common with Eleanor? They were cut from the same cloth. They both had the practical intelligence Рthe nous, in Britain -- to show flexibility, pragmatism, courage and persistence under fire. They both made progress in the face of systemic opposition by men. Under Cond̩ Nast, Cipe became the first woman appointed art director of major consumer magazines. Throughout her working life she competed in a tough, men-only field, and in each of her jobs the majority of people reporting to her were men. For thirty years I watched Cipe pull threads in managing professional and family matters. She was also the most gregarious, most generous woman one could meet. She threw great parties.

Eleanor of Aquitaine had been brought up in the relatively relaxed social and religious climate of Poitou and Aquitaine. Her only brother died, requiring that Eleanor be led from the feminine shadows and groomed to assume a degree of leadership normally reserved for males.

Her move to Paris as the queen of France at the age of 15 took Eleanor to a different world, one where priests and abbots ruled, and where sanctity challenged joy and gaiety. The sudden change must have weighed like a leaden blanket. But Eleanor held fast to the ambit of her youthful mind, inching forward where she could and learning from severe mistakes. Her years as the mistress of Paris may have been grim, but they taught perseverance in the face of adversity and, no doubt, toughened her cool reserve. Here is Eleanor instructing her young secretary, Aline, in deportment:

"There is a quality about a woman in her prime, transcendent of the flesh, for which men pine. Mark me, Aline, men's quest to possess us is a much greater thing than a stag sniffing hinds.

"Thus was I worshipped, in song and in verse. I say this to you now, not from the folly of vanities past, but as the earthly embodiment, long ago, of that essence which is the power of a woman.

"That is what draws, Aline. That is what draws men in. It is an essence of grace not captured or crafted in fine fabric and squirrel fur, though it may clothe itself in them. It does not depend upon beauty; it lives in a radiant hauteur, a comely and commanding presence. It finds life in the rustle of silk, but not the silk; in the lightest of footfalls, but not the foot; in the bearing, apart from the being."

Why is Eleanor popular now? Because, by seeing far, she projected potential for women's success into a future time -- our century -- as well as her own.

Medieval Europe's formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine dictates her memoirs in Robert Fripp's "Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine," Copyright Robert Fripp 2010. Visit for excerpts, reviews, a blog, an "Eleanor of Aquitaine timeline" and a reading group guide.


Robert Fripp kindly offered three copies of his book and also 10 copies of  "Eleanor of Aquitaine's Timeline" in PDF for a giveaway.


- two book copies US only and one copy Worldwide
- leave a comment and your email adress (one entry per household)
- contest closes 30 July at midnight GMT.

We'll select randomly the three winners of Power of a Woman and 10 others for "Eleanor of Aquitaine's Timeline". Good luck to everyone!


  1. Oh, I *need* this book!


  2. I have a similar giveaway at Bookworms Dinner.
    This is a fabulous book and awesome giveaway by the author.

  3. I have won the timeline and would love to win the book.
    thank you
    kaiminani at gmail dot com

  4. This sounds like a very interesting book.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  5. Eleanor of Aquitaine was such a remarkable woman. I love reading about her. She must of been a impressive woman to meet. Not just a queen, but a respected woman. She must of been charming, and awe inspiring.
    I would love to win a copy of this book!

    nellista at yahoo dot com dot au

  6. I must admit that I did not know (and still don't really) very much about Eleanor. But The author has vertainly piqued my interest and I shall be researching her.

    Please enter me for one of the worldwide copies.

    Thank you.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  7. Sounds great, please enter me for the worldwide give away

    kind regards

  8. Ooh, finally international giveaway! Please, count me in!


  9. I'd like to enter too, I'm international.


    spamscape [at] gmail [dot] com

  10. Thanks for posting Robert Fripp's comments and the giveaway. It was very interesting. Please enter me - U.S.


  11. Please, count me in. I'm international.


  12. Thank you for the giveaway!!

  13. Great post, please count me in for the US Copy giveaway or for the Time-line. Thanks!

    Nunezbella at hotmail dotcom

  14. This book sounds really interesting. It puts a somewhat different perspective on Eleanor of Aquitaine. I wold love to read it

  15. As an addendum I should add that I live in the US

    I live in the USA and I would really love to read this book!

  17. I "discovered" Eleanor of Aquitaine as an exchange student in France and have been a fan of her ever since. I'm glad that I'm not the only one and can't wait to get my hands on the new book.

    Please enter me - I'm from Germany

  18. I have always admired Eleanor for being strong and a woman of her own mind in a time that women were not respected and were not admired for their brains. I have always felt that Katharine Hepburn portrayed her so perfectly in The Lion in Winter because Hepburn herself was strong, smart, and never afraid to make her voice heard. Eleaonor continues to fascinate me and I love to read everything I can about her!

    Thank you for entering me, but please exclude me from the timeline giveaway, as I have already received a copy from Mr. Fripp.


  19. Sounds like a good read!

  20. Eleanor's one of my favorite all time royal heroines. Please enter me for the give away - US. Thanks!

  21. Eleanor of Aquitaine was a woman well a head of her time.

    Great contest

    cheriemd (at) shaw (dot)ca

  22. I love reading about this era in history and of this topic. Please enter me for this giveaway.

  23. Hi, I'm here for the worldwide give away.


  24. Thanks for the reminder! Please enter me (I live in the US - I do already have a copy of the timeline though).


  25. Please Enter my name in the contest it looks like a grand book!


  26. Please enter me in your giveaway...I am in the US....and a follower...


    Thank you...

  27. I would love to read this book. Count me in, please.

    nancysoffice at gmail dot com

  28. I would love to read this book. Count me in, please.

    nancysoffice at gmail dot com

  29. I have a longstanding interest in Eleanor of Aquitaine -- perhaps because my name is also Eleanor! Thank you for the chance to win this new book!
    lemonandrose {at} gmail {dot} com

  30. I always enjoy reading about and studying Eleanor of Aquitaine. Great article!